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Teacher of the year is optimistic influencer

The Official Teachers of the Year are often smart and optimistic influencers. They think their profession is fantastic and they carry it out. Sometimes to the annoyance of others.

Confusion about the title 'Teacher of the Year' has been around since the start of the election in 1999. Because no, the interviewees hasten to say, they are not the best teachers in the Netherlands. “It's actually an ambassadorial election,” says Ismail Aghzanay, who will hand over the baton to a new Teacher of the Year for secondary education on October 5, Teacher's Day. “The title gives you a stage, with which I try to make an impact by presenting teaching and teaching in a positive light.”

Aghzanay, elected Rotterdam Teacher of the Year in 2018, already had quite a reach on social media. His LinkedIn account now has almost 13 followers. In August he posted under the title 'If you stick your head above the ground…' about the negative reactions he and fellow (former) Teachers of the Year sometimes receive, both online and offline. “Comments like: you're only doing it for yourself. Or jokes with an undertone at school. That you are chatting with a group of students during the break and a colleague says: Well, they know where to find you again, don't they? Teacher of the year of course.”

“That you are chatting with a group of students during the break and a colleague says: Well, they know where to find you again, don't they?”

Aghzanay thinks it has to do with Dutch culture. “Just act normal, then you act crazy enough.” He continues: “You have to be able to collect. The funny thing is, at a wage equalization demonstration, we all expect teachers to be on the front lines, to speak up. But when you are in the foreground as Teacher of the Year and want to make an impact with your positive vision on education, you are treated very differently by a small group, which is important to say.”

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It is that happy aspect of the election that is also in the irritation zone of Volkskrantcolumnist Aleid Truijens ended up. She described the elated language around the winners 'champions' and 'toppers' who do their work with 'passion' and 'enthusiasm' last year as 'woe, pastoral adjectives' that might just scare new teachers. Andrew Niemeijer, 2009 Teacher of the Year, was disappointed with the column. Not even directly because of the content, but because he and other former Teachers of the Year had set up an online award in their own time between the lockdowns (see box below).

But the picture that Truijens paints is also incorrect, according to Niemeijer. “There is no Teacher of the Year mantra, or a dedicated Prodent smile. We are not brainwashed to focus solely on the greatness of our profession. In fact, we often participate in discussions about things that are not going well in education. Well, I think most of us quickly get into the mode of: Okay, once, but how are we going to do it now?”

“When I hear the nominees, I think: gosh, I want to be taught by you! It really is a wow feeling. It gives me such professional pride”

Niemeijer was initially quite skeptical when he was nominated. “I thought: what is this for idols? The nominees met in a castle. I thought that was bizarre. Are we going to have a competition to see who is the most popular teacher?” But that very evening his resistance turned to enthusiasm. “Since then, my experience has been identical every year. When I hear the nominees, I think: gosh, I want to be taught by you! It really is a wow feeling. It gives me such professional pride.”

Since its inception in 1999, 53 teachers have earned the title in four educational sectors. About half of them - Niemeijer estimates - continue to visit each other regularly. “Before corona we occasionally did a heather day. Then we invited a minister or another interesting speaker. Or we went wading. Since corona, it has become teams meetings and there is a whatsapp group.”

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The heyday of the price seems to have been the end of the first decade. Then the election was broadcast on the public broadcaster and the winners received the bronze curl from Dutch celebrities such as Tooske Ragas or Lieke van Lexmond.

According to education director Annet Kil, involved from the very beginning, the media interest in the candidates has remained high. The number of registrations would also have grown steadily to about 1200 per year. The details of the selection procedure can be found on the website of the Teachers of the Year foundation. In the end, three nominees per sector will roll out and a jury of experts will choose the winners.

They get VIP tickets for the education polder, as it were. For example: visits to ministers, the royal family, can join innovation lunches and visit the sector councils. They also end up in the Hilversum Rolodex. Kil: “I think we started media training for the nominees around 2010. It's pretty intense what's coming at you. The scope of your work suddenly becomes much bigger. Telling about your passion, craftsmanship and motivations makes you vulnerable.”

“It is quite intense what is coming at you. The scope of your work suddenly becomes much bigger. Telling about your passion, craftsmanship and motivations makes you vulnerable”

Niemeijer thinks that many title holders' marriages have come under pressure. “It did give me tension at home. I had just become a father. My wife, Alexandra, is also a teacher. She liked it for a few days, but after that she was done with it. It is mainly the ambassadorship that is not for everyone and which takes a lot of time.”

Daisy Mertens, Teacher of the Year in 2016 for primary education, had a partner at the time, but no family. “I had thought carefully about how I wanted to organize my ambassadorship. I wanted to make people enthusiastic about the profession. Let's see what it really looks like.” It was also an overwhelming experience for her. “You have to find a balance in what I do and what I don't do. I don't participate in a commercial product, for example.”

“You have to find a balance in what I do and what I don't do. For example, I do not participate in a commercial product”

"It is a brand become,” says Kil. Which makes it possible to find the Teachers of the year for the craziest things. Niemeijer: “Whether I wanted to open an ice rink, cut a ribbon and do a photo shoot for Millionaire magazine.” He did it at the time, but afterwards finds the activities 'less of substance'. Because Niemeijer also had a substantive mission. “For me it was about the status of the profession, about a better education and more time to continue learning. I wanted to sit at the table with Rinnooy Kan.”

That's where he ended up and he got a 'shock' insight on it. “Whether it concerns the Dijsselbloem committee, Rinnooy Kan, the program council of the NRO or the jury for the national education film: you are usually the only teacher at the table.” Niemeijer regularly felt like a Don Quixote. “Then said the big wigs (loosely translated: bobo's, ed.) In such a meeting: I couldn't hear what you're doing. Or: my wife is a primary school teacher.”

Valuable

Niemeijer still enjoys being a full-time English teacher. He also obtained his doctorate and is chairman of the Teachers of the Year foundation. Mertens works as a primary school teacher and is a member of the Education Council. In addition to his three days in front of the class, Aghzanay is a much sought-after speaker. They do not link these feats of arms to their title. Aghzanay: “Perhaps there has been a little more interest last year, but that is also because the themes I am passionate about - equality of opportunity, inclusion, citizenship - are topical”. Niemeijer got his PhD position 'on merits' and Mertens had to go through a 'tough application process' for her seat on the Education Council.

Mertens: “My director and board give me the space to do other activities. That's a win-win: I'm also raising things for the team again." In that respect, the experiences of the (former) title holders vary widely. Some employers love it, see it as a PR opportunity for the school and give the teachers time to fill their ambassador role. But Niemeijer also knows two former Teachers of the Year who lost their jobs because of it. They were not freely scheduled or facilitated, but instead found themselves alone at school. “You also become aware that you have a certain ambition. Not to leave the classroom, but to have a conversation with others about your profession.”

“You also become aware that you have a certain ambition. Not to leave the classroom, but to have a conversation with others about your subject”

In the end, all three are excited about what the election has brought them. A valuable network, a look behind the scenes of education policy and reflection. Mertens says: “All those different people and organizations you talk to add depth to your work. It makes you reflect and takes you out of the issues of the day.”

One of the students who registered Mertens for the election recently contacted her again. He said he was still happy that she had taught him to summarize. Mertens: “He also indicated: I was always very stubborn, but you kept asking, what makes you see it differently? Knowing that you've broadened his horizons, that you've taught him something that he can still use later in life, that's what you're doing it for in the end. That's why I still stand in front of the class so much. And no bronze curl or lunch with the king can compete with that.”

More and more elections

The Teacher of the Year election - which currently covers primary, secondary, secondary and secondary education - has already moved four times. From the initiator of CPS (an education consultancy), to the Stichting Beroepskwaliteit Leraren SBL, to the Education Cooperative, which was dissolved in 2020. An independent foundation was established in 2021 to organize the trajectory, run by former Teachers of the Year.

Big cities often choose their own Teacher of the Year and D66 seems to be picking up local janitor elections recently. The Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg selects the teacher of the year in the spring. A grant of 25 thousand euros is associated with this, to be spent on educational innovation.

As director of the Education Cooperative at the time, Annet Kil would have liked to include the educational support staff in the election, “but that was difficult because of our origins. SBL was there for quality requirements for the teaching profession.” And then there are all kinds of niche elections. Think of the sustainable teacher of the year or the outdoor teacher of the year. Kil thinks it's fine, as long as there's no commercial interest behind it. “To keep the profession attractive for young people, any form of positivism is fine.”

This article is from the October issue of the Education magazine, which is published monthly AObmembers falls on the bus. Learn more about all the benefits of the AOb-membership? Look here .

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